By Frank Bruni
New York Times
"Convenience." "Convenience." "Convenience." "Convenience."
Hillary Clinton's reliance on that word during her news conference at the United Nations on Tuesday minimized the exemption from standard procedure that she allowed herself when she decided — all on her own — to use only a private email address for both personal and government business.
She told reporters that she hadn't wanted to be weighed down by a second electronic device. It wasn't secrecy that motivated her. It was purse space and pinkie strain.
And behind her forced smile, which was practically cemented in place, she seemed put out by all the skepticism and all the questions. She shouldn't be. This latest Clinton controversy is not the work or fault of Republican enemies or a ruthless, unappeasable press corps. It's her doing.
She made a choice when she stepped into the secretary of state's job that was bound to be second-guessed if it ever came to light, as everything eventually does. And when it did, she was silent about it for a week, letting suspicions fester.
She was on the spit Tuesday because she placed herself there.
But the real problem with the news conference wasn't anything specific that she said or didn't say, any particular tone of voice or set of her shoulders that she aced or bungled.
It was what kept coming to mind as she stood before the cameras once again, under fire once again, aggrieved once again by Americans' refusal to see and simply trust how well intentioned and virtuous and good for the country she is:
It was all so very yesterday.
And elections are about tomorrow. Yes, that's a cliché, but it's also unassailable political truth.
And Clinton's challenge is to persuade an electorate that has known her since the Mesozoic era and trudged wearily with her through so much political melodrama that to vote for her is to turn the page, to embrace a new chapter, to move forward.
On Tuesday she didn't look as if she was leaning into the future. She looked as if she was getting sucked into the past.
That's not where voters want to go. Oh, sure, the Clinton years are remembered as prosperous ones, and she and Bill don't hurt her cause by rekindling those memories and stoking a bit of nostalgia.
But nostalgia doesn't win elections. The promise of solutions to problems and better times ahead does. And right now there's little horizon in Clinton's unofficial campaign for the White House; it's almost all rearview mirror. The conversation - incredibly - has returned to Rose Law Firm records lost and found, to the pricey privilege of the Lincoln Bedroom, to Whitewater.
Her "convenience"-fixated remarks at the United Nations won't change that.
They may nudge the news narrative in a different direction, because the news narrative is always ready for a different direction, and because she made some smart, deft moves.
She spoke of a wedding and of a funeral and even of yoga, reminding everyone that she's not merely a functionary but a daughter and a mother, with concerns not just about her upward rise but also about the downward dog.
She made a plea for protected spaces in public life that most voters will find sympathetic.
She made a very good point: that even government officials who have two email accounts decide, whenever they write a new communication, which one to use. So they're doing a real-time editing not much different from her after-the-fact editing when she made the call about which of her tens of thousands of emails to turn over to the State Department.
But what she needs, not so much to put this behind her as to get ahead, is a kind of reset, a reboot, one in which she sublimates her understandable desire to conduct her business in the way she prefers to a show of openness and transparency. She shouldn't simply be assuring voters that they can trust her and that no outside arbiter is needed. She should be eliminating the shields and shenanigans that create room for distrust in the first place.
That would be a break with the Clintons of the 1990s, a departure from politics as usual and a sign to voters that in order to make political history, she's willing to examine her personal history, acknowledge her mistakes and change her ways, electing candor over ceaseless calculation.
No more minced words. No more split hairs. No more donations to the Clinton Foundation that have a whiff of hypocrisy and suggest conflicts of interest.
She's going to have a primary, all right, but it will be a contest against her own worst impulses, default defensiveness and prickly sense of insult when pressed for explanations. From what I saw Tuesday, victory is uncertain.